Ojudu: ‘Politics That Works’, a playbook of politicking in Nigeria

Senator Babafemi-Ojudu


Sen. Babafemi Ojudu is the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Political Matters. In this interview Ojudu, a distinguished journalist, activist and mentor of many young Nigerians, who represented Ekiti Central constituency in the Senate from 2011 to 2015 spoke to Ayorinde Oluokun on Politics That Works, the book he co-authored with Alex Adekunle-James which will be presented to the public on Monday, 4 October.

Q: What inspires this book?

It’s borne out of my experience and out of the experience of the nation with the EndSARS protest.

My association with many young Nigerians who love this country and are patriotic, but do not know how to participate meaningfully in building Nigeria also nudged I and Alex to embark on this project .

A couple of years ago, my daughter was part of protests here and there and I called her and said, ‘look, if you want to shape Nigeria, go in and participate in the major parties and join hands with others to shape these two major parties. I advised her to go participate at the ward level and from there work her way up gradually and build a career as a politician.’

But she didn’t listen to me at that time. She said: ‘PDP is the same as APC, they are the same people, they are corrupt and this and that.’

I told her firmly there is no way a new party just coming out now will beat these masters- these two parties that have established themselves. You can’t have their structure, you can’t have their network, you can’t have their resources, I drummed into her.

“Talk to your friends, go and join. Nature will deal with people like us and those that are older than us. We will wither away. Power will fall on you so, you can continue fighting from there. But if you start fighting now outside these structures, you will fight and fight till you are frustrated.” That was my message to her then.

From time to time young people keep coming to me asking me ‘how do we join your party?’ how do we participate? ‘Not Too Young To Run’ what is it about? Of course, EndSARS came and they were on the streets, feeding people, providing music and so on. And I looked at it and said, ‘you cannot take over Nigeria from the streets.’ It will be very difficult. You still have to do politics. You still have to participate in political parties, contest elections and win to change Nigeria – look at how the EndSARS ended up in a fiasco.

Politics That Works – the book

The movement , as organized as it was , before hoodlums took over , didn’t even have leaders – there was nobody to negotiate with. It was while I was ruminating on these things and talking to some of these guys that I met Alex and I said: ‘Okay, you are a young man, I am a politician and a journalist, let’s show the way to your generation on how it can be done.’ And that’s how the book idea came about.

We are looking at how to join political parties, how not to join today and want to become a governor tomorrow and those kind of things – because those things lead to frustrations.

You are coming from America after being away for 25 years and suddenly you are pasting posters, saying you want to become the next governor of your state. People will take your money and then, you will be frustrated and go back and be abusing everybody in Nigeria. Or you are a professional in Nigeria, say a banker, a musician or whatever and you are tired of your profession and suddenly, you want to become a senator – you will get frustrated – they will dribble, dupe and scam you. So, gradually, we started building up ideas and I started adding my experiences to it and that was how we came about the book.

Question: Many young Nigerians have already made up their minds that nothing good can come out of politics and even, from those two political parties the PDP and APC and that what we need now is a revolution So, do you think that they will be willing to read the book and accept all these prescriptions ?

Well, there will be those who will turn their back on it, turn their back on the country, on politics and will be pursuing a mirage. At the end of the day, such people will end up frustrated. Except you want to organise a revolution and kill all of us, I mean all those dominant in politics now, there is no way you can take over the country without going through the avenue of politics and politicking. If you want to do a revolution, it is a big task. In Nigeria, it is even bigger because if you kill two people in the North, you must kill two people in the West, kill two people in the East and then, kill two people in the Central. If you kill in the North and you don’t kill in the West, people will say it is a tribal thing. And that was what affected the Nzeogwus of this world – when they killed the Northern and Western region leaders and nobody from the East. And that led to the crises that we are still battling with today. We need people who are well educated and have the capacity and ability to listen and process different views and opinions, manage people of different religions and ethnic groups.

If you join a political party and you take your time, and you are patient, you will be able to understand the nuances of the game as well as the differences among the people across the land and that will equip you to become a leader one day and bring about development in land.

I have seen quite a number of people of my own generation who talked about revolution all of their life and they have not been able to realize this goal and may not be able to so do till they wither away. So while we are waiting and praying for revolution why don’t we for now join in taking practical steps towards solving the myriads of problems facing us by participating in politics and governance.

Question: You also used to be part of them as a student leader, journalist..

I was also part of that. I was in the student union and I was a journalist and an activist. I also used to talk like that. When I came out of detention in 1998, if I had gone straight to join politics, I probably would have been governor many years ago. And many of us – Femi Falana, Gani Fawehinmi, Olisa Agbakoba and so on would have been able to make a mark in politics. But we all said ‘no, that Abdulsalam transition was rubbish. It is this and that. Don’t participate in it” and many of us turned our backs on it.

Before we know it, the thieves and rogues that we fought under the military took over government. They have sunk their roots very deep into political grounds and now, they are difficult to take out . So, we need to be realistic, understand our society, and know what is possible and what is not possible, so that we can achieve our purpose. The thing is ‘get in there, change the place.” Interestingly, a good number of people who are activist or idealist are more hardworking, principled, honest, can plan and mobilize. But we have not done all that in a manner that will bring us political glory.

Question: President Buhari signed the Not Too Young To Run Bill into law before the 2019 general election. How well would you say the young Nigerians have taken advantage of the law to further their political interest and what is the relationship with this book?

Some young Nigerians have taken advantage of the law, but so many are lost – they don’t even know how to join a political party.

Question: But many are joining the new, smaller political parties..,

They are joining them out of idealism – you form a party and you cannot even win your ward, much less, your local government. You don’t have resources to spread around the country, you are not known outside your family. So, what kind of claim are you making to national leadership? Then, you sit on social media, you are abusing Buhari, abusing Osinbajo, abusing the North, abusing Fulani and calling some others Fulani slaves and all those things and you think that you can govern Nigeria?

This is what we are trying to let them know – that most of the people that we are celebrating today as political leaders – whether in Netherlands, Obama in the US, some others in New Zealand and other places , they started somewhere. At the age of 16, some of them are packing chairs and tables at political meetings, understudying those who are already there. They are taking notes; they are acting as secretaries, campaigners, organisers. If you join a political party at the age of 16, by the time you spend 16 years understudying the masters, at 32, you would have become a master yourself. And that’s why you find women and men in places like Europe and Asia emerging President at 33, 34, 35. They didn’t wake up to join when they were 34 to emerge President at 35, it is not possible. Many of them have been organisers from the age of 16.

Question: But the argument of some of the youths is that old politicians like you will not even allow them to have a say in those bigger parties, unlike in those places…

I once met a lady who has written a book on politics. She joined PDP in Abuja here and the same year she joined, she contested to go to House of Representatives and she failed. Since that nasty experience she has been badmouthing politics and politicians and this out of frustration with the system. Here was a brilliant lady, patriotic and progressive who got it all wrong and got her fingers burnt.

Politics doesn’t work that way, not in Nigeria. Not anywhere else. I call those kinds of people ‘parachute politicians.’ Are you going to displace the people that have been there, attending meetings at the wards, at the local government level for 15, 20 years? It is not possible.

Coming from America and landing in Lagos and immediately, you want to become the governor of Lagos State, can that work? If there is anybody who can do that, it will probably be someone being sponsored by a godfather. But even at that, it is going to be tough. It will create a lot of disenchantments among all those who have been holding the party together in all these years.

So, our recommendation is that if you want to participate, start early, go to your local branch of the party, organize , do things for the party, make your name, have a record of service and begin to consciously build up a reputation for yourself that you will call on in later years and can then give you that opportunity. The book is about all the things that I have been telling you now and also some of the rough things that you are going to encounter when you get there .

I have seen some youths who came, joined, encountered these things and then dropped the ball, saying ‘I don’t know that this thing is as bad as this.’

Politics is dirty, but if you encounter it in this book that this is what I am going to come up against, you will prepare your minds that yes, okay, ‘it is not going to be like a corporate thing,’ especially if you are coming from the banking or corporate sector where you push files, hold regular briefings, drink coffee and tea, go on retreats and do power point presentations and all of that. If you leave that environment without being informed of what awaits you and you go to your ward meeting and you hear the kind of things that they are saying, the way they are behaving, you will run away. But in graphic terms, we have presented in that book for you to see that this is what you should expect – they will disturb your sleep, want to eat in the same plate with you, they will harass you and you wife for money to bury their father, to pay school fees, to do all kind of things. Are you ready for that? The moment you go through that book, there is nothing, no experience that confronts a politician or that will confront you that will be strange to you.

Question: So you presented the reality of Nigerian politics in the book?

Yes! You will have the reality of Nigerian politics from the East, to the North and South, everywhere. It is the same thing everywhere; it’s the same playbook. But coming into politics I also never knew. I’m not sure that if I had known I would have come or I would have prepared better because as a journalist, I say things as it is. If you are a thief, I will call you a thief. If you bring a story to me and I see that it was not right, I would tell you have collected money to do this story – those kinds of things. But in politics, you can’t talk like that- you buy lies and you buy truth and it is now left for you to decide what to take from there. In politics when somebody is telling you a lie, you don’t need to tell him that he is a liar, but you know within you that the person is a liar .

If you send someone on an errand, you send another person to go and verify if he has delivered that message. If somebody comes to lie to you that he requires N10 and you know that he is lying, you don’t let him go without giving him something. You can tell him ‘ I don’t have N10, but take this N2 and go and do whatever you think you can do with it. He will leave you smiling. You would have done something that will not make him turn into your adversary .

You don’t say ‘get out of my house, you are a thief.’ If you do that in politics, you will fail. I remember a particular story that I kept telling people – some Alfas came to see a governor one day and said that they want to pray for him and he said, ‘okay how much would the prayer cost’ They said half a million naira. He then called one of his aides to bring N250,000. He said Alfa, ‘take this money when you pray for me, wherever this money stops, you stop there and when I get the balance, I will call you, you can continue.’

The governor knew that there was no prayer; the men just needed the money. Those are things that the youths need to know about politics. They also need to know that they can’t go blindfolded into the game . If you want to run in an election, there is the need for you to do an opinion poll, do scientific research. The idea of godfather is not entirely negative; you need to hang on to people who have experience, who have been there before you and who are willing to let you learn from them. All of these things are in the book.